The summer is for getting out and exploring! Cincinnati is home to excellent museums, parks, country clubs, and more, but if you’re trying to take a break from your everyday life in the city, you might be aching to breathe some fresh air, let out some energy on a good hike, and camp under the stars. Of course, some like hopping over to another city or town for a different kind of change of pace, so this list includes a couple of those, too. So, what are the best road trip destinations from Cincinnati during the summer?
1. Red River Gorge
Distance: 2 hours 15 minutes
Red River Gorge is a canyon system full of rock shelters, waterfalls, and over 100 sandstone arches. The gorge is in the Daniel Boone National Forest and covers nearly 30,000 acres. It’s one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the world and is a designated National Natural Landmark.
Be sure to drive through the Nada Tunnel on your way into the Park, hike the Natural Bridge, and kayak underground. Aside from world-famous climbing, you’ll also find plenty of hiking to waterfalls, canyons, and caverns. Camping is available, from campsites to luxurious cabins, and everything in between. Travel into town for lots of dining options that are favorites of locals and visitors alike.
2. Mammoth Cave National Park
Distance: 3 hours
Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system at 400 miles long. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also offers canoeing, camping, biking, horseback riding, and 80 miles of hiking. Mammoth Cave is also an International Biosphere Reserve because of its impressive plethora of flora and fauna. Camp at a campsite or in a cabin, but be sure to check out the excellent stargazing after dark.
3. Shawnee National Forest
Distance: 1 hour 45 minutes
Explore southern Ohio’s beautiful Appalachian foothills by boating and swimming in the lakes, biking the trails, hiking, and backpacking. There are seven designated backcountry camping spots for avid backpackers. Discover plenty of other fun activities like archery, disc golf, tennis, volleyball, and other sports. Camping offerings vary from wooded campsites to fully modern cabins for your comfort.
Distance: 4 hours 30 minutes
Sitting on the banks of Lake Michigan, Chicago is an endless playground of music, art, architecture, and outdoor activities, just to name a few. Spend an afternoon on the beach, bike through historic neighborhoods, take a boat tour through the canals, or just stroll downtown.
The distance from Cincinnati to Chicago makes for a very easy weekend trip, but you might want to plan for longer. Chicago is truly a city rich in attractions and you can very easily fill a weekend or longer. Check local calendars for concerts and special events. ChooseChicago.com is a great place to find event listings like exhibits, performance art, live concerts, festivals, and more.
5. George Washington National Forest
Distance: 8 hours
The road trip from Cincinnati to the George Washington National Forest is a lengthy one but worth it. The Appalachian Mountains offer some exciting hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, and trail running.
The hiking trails offer a range of difficulty and side excursions, like taking a dip in a watering hole, bird watching, or taking in a waterfall. There are more than 40 developed campgrounds in the National Forest.
6. Nantahala National Forest
Distance: 5 hours
In 2017, the National Forest Foundation designated the Nantahala National Forest as a Treasured Landscape. Once you make it up to one of the breathtaking summits, you’ll see why. Nantahala means “land of the midday sun” because of the incredible view of the sunlit gorges when the sun is directly above.
The hiking in Nantahala National Forest is impeccable with its wealth of waterfalls and views. As for biking and horseback riding, the trails range in difficulty, making it a fun outing for any skill level. The Left Loop is a 12-mile trail along Lake Fontana that was ranked as one of the best rides by Bicycling Magazine
The Nantahala National Forest offers both full-featured campgrounds and primitive camping, with almost all nearby bodies of water.
7. Gatlinburg, TN
Distance: 4 hours 45 minutes
Take the drive from Cincinnati to Gatlinburg to enjoy this small mountain town for all its charm and buzz of activity. This gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountains boasts loads of charm in its downtown area and offers a variety of family activities, live entertainment, shops, and galleries. Of course, a Gatlinburg visit isn’t complete until you visit Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood.
8. Talladega National Forest
Distance: 6 hours 15 minutes
Make your way all the way down to Alabama to experience the southernmost part of the Appalachian Mountains. This area is known for its expansive hiking trails, perfect for backpackers and any hiker well-practiced in endurance.
The Pinhoti Trail is a 170-mile backbone trail that’s split up into 13 parts that vary in characteristics. Hike the Chinnabee Silent Trail to see the beautiful cascades, creeks, waterfalls, and swimming holes. Finally, the Skyway Loop is a more challenging hike with the half-mile “Stairway to Heaven” with an elevation gain of 600 feet. Be sure to look up more information about hiking in Talladega National Forest online for safety tips to prepare for a fun hike.
There are other hiking trails that include waterfalls, vistas, and camping. Camping across the different hiking trails are first come first served, so be sure to pack your hammock, just in case.
9. Hocking Hills State Park
Driving Time: 2 hours 13 minutes
In Logan, Ohio is Hocking Hills State Park. Caves, waterfalls, canoeing, and various levels of hiking are just a fraction of the fun and adventure you can experience here. As you make your way around the park you’ll also see ziplining, guided yoga nature hikes, rock climbing, rappelling, fishing, and so much more.
Throughout the summer, there are festivals galore in almost any direction 40 minutes or less from the park. Stay in a cabin in the state park and visit a neighboring town for a festival, or stay in a town and visit the park during the day.
Your Cincinnati Dream Home in the Center of It All
Living in Cincinnati places you right in the center of some of the best getaways and adventures you could want. Whether you’re a hiking enthusiast or a live music fanatic, you’re only a drive away from any type of entertainment out there. But when school’s back in session and the summer comes to a close, the place you call home should make you feel energized and comforted, just like your favorite vacation spots.
Chris Gorman Homes knows just the place, and how to get there. Chris Gorman Homes is a custom home builder that works with clients through every step of the process to make sure that your home building experience is stress-free. We value transparency, from setting your budget and buying land, to designing your home and finishing your project on time. Contact Chris Gorman to discuss building your dream home to make every day feel like vacation.